2014 Women's Rugby World Cup
New Zealand favourites as World Cup kicks off
August 1, 2014
Emily Scarratt is set to star for England as they take on Samoa in their World Cup opener © Getty Images
The women's game takes centre stage this month as 12 teams battle it out on French soil to be crowned World Cup winners 2014.
New Zealand, surprise surprise, are reigning champions having defeated England 13-10 in the 2010 final at the Twickenham Stoop. But after narrowly missing out on lifting the trophy on home turf, England will be determined to go one step further after making the short trip across the channel.
With a full set of fixtures scheduled for today as the pool stages get underway, ESPN brings you a preview of the action.
New Zealand v KazakhstanFriday, 12pm
Sorry England, but New Zealand are the overwhelming favourites to lift the trophy on August 17 and the minnows of Kazakhstan are unlikely to provide much of a roadblock on the route to the final. New Zealand have won the last four World Cups and go into the tournament in a rich run of form. Victories over Australia, Samoa and twice against Canada have set the Black Ferns up as likely tournament winners.
Kazakhstan have featured in the last five World Cups but have only managed to finish 11th in the last three. It would take an upset of monumental proportions for them to defeat New Zealand. In fact, victory is nigh on impossible for the Nomads.
Prediction: New Zealand to cruise to victory by 50 points
Canada v SpainFriday, 2pm
The day's second fixture could provide a closer match-up that the first - but only just. Canada, hosts of the 2006 tournament, finished fourth three times in a row from 1998 before losing the play-off for fifth/sixth to the USA in 2010. They have the pedigree to finish second in Pool A behind England, but will have to aim for big scores if they hope to make the semi-finals.
Spain are back in the World Cup having missed out on qualification last time. Their cause has not been helped by the decision to replace them with Italy in the Six Nations, allowing the women's competition to reflect the men's. Warm-up defeats by France and Ireland showed Spain lacking in power and they are unlikely to trouble the Canadians too much.
Prediction: Canada to win by 20
Australia v South AfricaFriday, 2.45pm, Sky Sports 3
The all-Southern Hemisphere clash is the first game of the tournament to be broadcast on these shores, but it could be another one-sided affair. Australia thrashed South Africa 62-0 when the two sides met in the 2010 competition, with the Aussies going on to finish third overall. South Africa dragged themselves to 10th, which was an improvement on their 12th-place finish in 2006.
Things might be a little tougher for Australia this time round, after warm-up defeats to New Zealand and Canada. Their main focus is Sevens rugby, with 12 players making their World Cup debuts in the XV-a-side game, but victory over a weak South Africa side should ease them into the tournament.
Prediction: Australia to win by 50
USA v IrelandFriday, 4pm
With the thrashings that are likely to precede it, this fixture could be our first chance to see a close encounter between two strong sides.
The USA have a strong pedigree when it comes to World Cups. Winners of the inaugural tournament in 1991, they finished runners-up in the next two. But the Stars and Stripes have waned recently as they missed out on the semi-finals in the last three tournaments.
Ireland were victorious in the 2013 Six Nations, meaning they have the experience of lifting a major trophy. They are limited by a lack of funding and support, but could make the semi-finals if results go their way.
Prediciton It will be close, but the USA should win by 7
England v SamoaFriday, 5pm, Sky Sports 3
By the time they kick off this evening, England will know how good they have to be if they hope to beat New Zealand in the final in a fortnight. They will beat Samoa, of that there is no question, but if New Zealand put down a marker by smashing Kazakhstan, then England will want a big victory to show they can meet the challenge.
Samoa are a long way behind most teams at this World Cup. They had to hold fundraising dinners just to be able to afford to fly to Paris, but will be delighted to play their part having failed to qualify for the 2010 tournament. Scoring double-figures against England would an achievement for them.
Prediction England to win by a resounding 80 points
France v WalesFriday, 7.45pm, Sky Sports 3
The hosts swing into action in the day's final fixture and will be desperate to shake off their tag of consistent underachievers. France finished third four times in World Cup history and took fourth in the last edition of the tournament. Home advantage can count for a lot, but they will have their work cut out to match the power of New Zealand and England as the tournament progresses.
Wales had a disappointing Six Nations campaign earlier this year, securing just one victory. They have a young squad, but it is an exciting one, and victory over France is possible. On home soil however, France might be just too strong for Wales' inexperienced line-up.
Prediction France to win by 15
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